Graduate school programs are seeking to increase the volume, quality and diversity of applicants through a more equitable admissions process. Here are a few of the trends I believe are most important to informing the practices of today’s admissions professionals.
Transparent and Intentional Admissions Processes
One needs to look no further than the national news cycle to know that admissions processes are under intense scrutiny. Students want more transparency in how the process is carried out and how applications are weighed to inform admissions decisions. A 2018 study by the Council of Graduate Schools urged institutions to be more transparent about their admissions processes. This includes openly communicating to prospective students the definition of program success, the weight assigned to various attributes considered to be predictive of success, and the role of these attributes when making admissions decisions. These steps are all part of holistic admissions, in which all admissions processes are aligned to institution and program goals, and all applicants are considered for everything they can bring to a program. ETS has published a set of holistic admissions practices based on 71 interviews with graduate deans, faculty and staff, as well as a discussion guide to help programs interested in starting conversations on their campuses about aligning processes with goals. A transparent and holistic admissions process is not only inherently fairer to the applicant, but it can position your program to clearly communicate with prospective students and admit those who can help your program be successful.
Inclusive On-Campus Environments
Much of the current conversation around graduate admissions is focused on strategies for increasing diversity. These conversations are essential, and we can learn from programs that are doing this successfully, such as the University of Texas at Austin and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. These programs and others not only design their admissions processes to align with the goal of increasing diversity, but also work to create inclusive on-campus environments. Much of the conversation at ETS’s Strategies for Increasing Graduate Program Diversity Symposium focused on highlighting data-driven strategies for supporting and retaining underrepresented students. These resources require investments in the form of funding, personnel and time. But it’s worth it because institutions are realizing that the return can yield increased completion rates, especially among members of underrepresented groups.
Speaking of completion rates, it should come as no surprise that graduate programs are seeking tools and data that will best allow them to predict the future success of a student. GPA and GRE® test scores do a good job of indicating cognitive skills, but to get a better idea for everything a candidate can offer, programs are also looking for measures of noncognitive skills, or personal attributes, which can be harder to measure. With this challenge in mind, ETS partnered with the Yale School of Management over the last five years to pilot a new behavioral assessment that measures interpersonal and intrapersonal attributes that the GRE test is not designed to capture. Many programs are already discussing the importance of incorporating noncognitive measures, and tools like this may help to meet that need in the future.
As with any trend or new idea, gathering data and doing the research are the best ways to ensure you’re moving in the right direction. You have a partner in ETS, which is committed to helping you improve quality and diversity in graduate education. For more information about the latest ETS research, visit ets.org/research, or download the publication ETS Research Agenda: Big Educational Challenges. For more information about holistic admissions practices, visit holisticadmissions.org.